Big Wednesday (1978)

Big Wednesday (1978)

“Nobody surfs forever.”

Three surfing buddies — Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent), Leroy the Masochist (Gary Busey), and Jack (William Katt) — reflect back on their idyllic teen years, dodging (or entering) the draft, and growing into young adulthood.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Hale Films
  • Coming of Age
  • Friendship
  • Gary Busey Films
  • Surfers

Writer-director John Milius — perhaps best known as screenwriter for Apocalypse Now (1979) and director of Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Red Dawn (1984) — helmed this semi-autobiographical paean to surfing and White-male coming-of-age during the 1960s. Apparently George Lucas and Steven Spielberg thought this flick would be “the American Graffiti of surfing films”:

… but it was a box office flop; indeed, I was interested but not surprised to read this bit of trivia on IMDb:

Warner Bros. initially budgeted $5,000,000 for this film, but production costs went way over that figure, finally costing the studio $11,000,000. Anthea Sylbert, an executive at Warner Bros. at the time, in an interview in the 30 August 1981 edition of the Boston Globe newspaper, said the film was “…a classic example of an egomaniacal man going over budget and not listening to anyone.”

Watching it now, it’s easy to see why only some viewers — i.e., surfing lovers — would find it appealing, since these scenes are (minimally) what keep it afloat, so to speak.

The only half-way interesting sequences are those set in the draft office, which presumably represent how chaotic this scene was.

Otherwise, there is really nothing to enjoy or appreciate about these boring characters and the exceedingly lame dialogue: “Who knows where the wind comes from; is it the breath of God?”

Note: Barbara Hale had the dubious notoriety of appearing here in her final film role, playing mother to her own (real-life) son.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bruce Surtees’ cinematography

Must See?
Nope; this one is strictly must-see for surfing enthusiasts. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Big Wednesday (1978)

  1. First viewing (5/31/22). Not must-see but it’s certainly better than one might think and is of interest as a period piece of a particular time capsule.

    I knew almost nothing about this film and assumed it was more or less a second ‘Endless Summer’, with next to no story. That isn’t the case; it actually is more like ‘American Graffiti’ (which I’m not a fan of) in its structure and is a fond remembrance of youth.

    I didn’t relate to it much personally but I was nevertheless drawn in thanks to the care Milius takes in laying out the story. If there’s a downside, it’s that – although the loyalty among the three is crystal clear – the three guys are nevertheless somewhat lacking in character definition. Or maybe they’re just young and there isn’t much to them.

    Still, something in the film’s tone kept me interested (though, again, essentially this isn’t the kind of movie that’s “in my wheelhouse”, as they say) – and the climactic surfing scenes that conclude the film are certainly stunning.

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